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Hebrew and You with Lee M. Fields: When Did “Lucifer” Become a Name Equivalent to Satan

Categories Hebrew and You

As author Lee M. Fields showed in his last post, Lucifer” didn’t always refer to Satan. So how is this identification formed? Read on for the surprising answer.

The sources for the identification between “Lucifer” and Satan are difficult to date, but they all come from post-New Testament times. There are three basic groups of sources to check plus the NT.

OT Pseudepigraphic Works

First, many OT pseudepigraphic works were originally Jewish and then later reworked by Christians. We begin to see Satan equated with Venus here. For example, in The Life of Adam and Eve, thought by many to have been composed between 100 B.C. and A.D. 200, probably closer to A.D. 100, with Greek and Latin translations between then and 400, though this is all in dispute now (see J. R. Levinson, “Adam and Eve, Literature Concerning” in Dictionary of NT Background, 4–5). In 9:1 Satan is said to have transformed himself into “the brightness of the angels.” Eve, complaining to Satan about his continual onslaught of deception to lead her into sin, asks in 11:2–3, “Have we stolen your glory and made you without honor?” In 12:1, the devil responds that the reason for this pursuit is that it is on account of them that he was expelled and deprived of his glory “which I had in the heavens in the midst of angels, and … was cast out onto the earth.” The cause for this expulsion was the very creation of man. Man was created in the image of God. Therefore Michael the angel presented Adam before all the angels and told them to “worship the image of God.” Satan refused because he was superior to man and man should worship him. Other angels began to follow suit. Michael warned of the threat of God’s wrath. To this Satan responded, “If he be wrathful with me, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven and will be like the most high” (cf. Isa 14.13; Dan 8.10; Obad 4; Job 22.12; Jude 9). Whether the identification is Jewish or Christian, I cannot tell. It may have been a Jewish idea. The writers of these works often rewrote the Bible stories.

Later Jewish Rabbinic Works

Second, in the later Jewish works of the rabbis (Talmud and others). The earlier rabbinic works do not make the Lucifer-Satan connection. Rather they apply Isa 14:12 to God’s judgment on human rulers. For example, in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 149b quotes Isa 14:12. It takes a lesson from Nebuchadnezzar and Zedekiah to teach that it is right to punish the wicked. There is no treatment of hêlēl ben šaḥar, and no identification with Satan or hint of reference to any other superhuman being.

NT Sources

In the NT there are only three verses which may apply, Luke 10:18; Rev 9:1 and 12:9. In Rev 12:9 Satan is clear, but no star is mentioned. In Rev 9:1, a star is fallen from heaven to earth. But is this a reference to Isa 14:12? If it is, is it teaching that Isa 14:12 is talking about Satan? Perhaps, but I think it is better to say that Rev 9:1 is applying the same terminology that Isaiah does (namely, of a powerful one who is cast down from his high place by God) to Satan. Therefore Isa 14:12 need not be interpreted of Satan in any way. Luke 10:18 is no more conclusive than Rev 9:1.

The earliest Christians to identify the figure of Isaiah 14:12 with Satan seem to be the contemporaries Tertullian (d. c. 225) and Origen (d. about 250). Tertullian in his Against Marcion 5.17 quotes Isa 14:13-14 and applies it to “the devil” (diabolus). Though Origen wrote in Greek, his First Principles work is preserved only in the Latin translation of Rufinius. In 1.5.5 Rufinius’ translation does contain the word Lucifer in quoting Isa 14:12. Many later church fathers continued this line of interpretation.

Conclusion: The Short Answer

Isaiah 14:12 simply does not give any factual information about the history of Satan: (1) Isaiah’s context is about the fall of the king of Babylon. Kings were often referred to as stars; Isa 14:12 would be describing the fall of the greatest (in some sense) one. (2) Lucifer was not originally a name for Satan, but referred to Venus. (3) It was only later that Christians, perhaps following some writings of OT pseudepigrapha, which were sometimes heavily steeped in speculative stories about angels, made this identification. The name Lucifer, then, meaning “light-bearer,” is quite appropriate for Christians and their task of bringing the light of the gospel to the world. Jesus himself, the ultimate Light-bearer (John 1:4, 5, 9; 8:12; 9:5), is called the “morning star” and “bright morning star” in Rev 2:28; 22:16, respectively, another term for the planet Venus. Of course, given the historic identification of Lucifer as the name for Satan, this meaning would be completely lost today.

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Lee_fieldsLee M. Fields writes about the biblical Hebrew language, exegesis, Hebrew translation, and related topics at Koinonia. A trained Hebrew scholar, his education includes a Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College. He is the author of Hebrew for the Rest of Us (Zondervan, 2008) and An Anonymous Dialogue with a Jew (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012). He currently serves as Professor of Bible and Chairman of the Department of Biblical Studies at Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, NC.

Learn more about Lee's innovative work in biblical languages and instruction.

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